About Wes

Since you came to this page, you must be wondering who I am, what I do, and why I have such a cool web site about steam locomotives. Trains are one of my hobbies. Specifically, I like steam locomotives. I also like other things like my family, music, dancing, volleyball, computer programming, flying drones, and putzing around in the garage.

With all of these activities and the task of keeping my web sites fresh, I am left with little time to answer the bazillions of email messages from people who think I am some sort of large company with a department full of customer support staff, to whom I must often reply: "I'm sorry, I don't have a brochure to send to you and no I don't have visiting hours because I do not have a museum you can visit, I'm just a guy with a web site about steam locomotives!"

I grew up in the Minneapolis area. In June of 2001 I relocated to Brisbane, Australia. While in Australia, I did much the same things as I did in the USA. In 2011 another opportunity presented itself and we relocated back to the USA to Northwest Arkansas.


How did I become interested in trains? My parents bought an HO train set for me when I was very young. I enjoyed playing with it and added to it until I was about 16 at which time I sold most of it and packed the rest away. Around 1988 I unpacked the box of remaining trains and started to restore them.

Ever since that first HO train set I've been interested in trains. I grew up near the American Crystal Sugar Company (where my dad worked) in Chaska, MN. There was a lot of train activity at the factory. Every fall, during the campaign, the Milwaukee Road would bring sugar beet trains from the Dakotas. Steam cranes were used to unload the hopper cars and create huge mountains of sugar beets in a staging area near the factory. The sugar factory had two of these steam powered cranes which they used to shuffle the sugar beet cars around. The steam cranes are long gone, but I will never forget the sweet smell of coal smoke that they produced.

In 1990 I bought tickets for an excursion train to be pulled by SLSF 1522 from Minneapolis to Winona and back. 1522 never made it (friction bearing problems en route from St. Louis) so the train was pulled by diesels (a disappointment). While on that train I spoke with someone (a car attendant) from the Minnesota Transportation Museum. Weeks later I showed up at the Jackson Street Roundhouse (part of the Minnesota Transportation Museum), talked to some people, and joined the museum.

As a member of the Minnesota Transportation Museum and an active crew member on the Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway, I worked my up from student brakeman to brakeman to conductor to student engineer to diesel engineer to student fireman to fireman to student steam locomotive engineer to steam locomotive engineer. My ultimate goal of being a qualified steam locomotive engineer was achieved on Saturday, August 28th, 1999.

Since the MTM operates on Wisconsin Central trackage, all of the crew must be code-qualified (FRA rules). We had to go through training and take the same tests (every two years) that the paid WC crew members did. Over the years, the WC had come to trust us enough so that they even let us haul their freight! The WC would leave a train somewhere for us and FAX the train orders to our trainmaster. We (the MTM) would send a crew out to the train, perform the necessary tests, and proceed to haul their freight (drop off loads, pick up empties, etc.). What an experience it was to be the engineer on a real freight train! It was also a big responsibility.

Doing this type of work gave me an opportunity to see what real railroading is like. It provided me with experiences that were otherwise difficult to achieve.

I don't consider myself a "railfan". I don't even care for that term. However, I do have an interest in railroads -- especially steam locomotives (diesels are ok too, I suppose). I have traveled quite a bit, and have seen and photographed hundreds of steam locomotives throughout the United States and Australia. Some of these photographs are shown on these web pages.

I love music. My earliest affinity to music was with progressive rock of the 70s. This era of music was defined by the "super group" which included bands such as Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, and Jethro Tull. Much of their music was created as a result of pure artistic expression rather than a formula designed to create success through radio airplay. One of my greatest discoveries back then was Beaker Street.

The end of the 70s coincided with the end of many of the super groups. The 80s brought groups that were super but genres became just as, or more important than the groups themselves. The music scene was defined by a plethora of "New Wave" style genres. Although there were "super groups" in the 80s (Depeche Mode, ABC, Pet Shop Boys), music began being to be associated more with these genres instead of the with the bands themselves. Genres included the keyboard driven Synth Pop, the big hair New Romantic bands, the darker Dark Wave and Gothic music, and one of my favorites -- Industrial.

The progressive music scene in Minneapolis in the 80s was strong. There was First Avenue, an old Grayhound bus depot converted into a danceteria. There was also a dance club called Graffitti's. Graffitti's was my favorite dance place. They played an impressive mix of 80s music. Between 1984 and 1986 a Sunday night program called Radio One aired on KBEM radio station (88.5) in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The DJ for Radio One was Mike McClellan. Some of the most interesting, innovative, and progressive dance and new wave music ever heard on a Twin Cities radio station was aired on Radio One. The only other radio program that came close was Beat Radio in 1998.

The 90s is where music began to drift into the "throw away", "fast food" style of the 2000s.

Ballroom Dancing

I became interested in ballroom dancing from watching the ballroom dance competitions on television. After attending a local competition as a spectator, I decided that I would like to try ballroom dancing out for myself. As with most subjects, I found that the more I learned about dancing, the more I realized there is to know. A great deal of effort (and money) can be spent on learning how to ballroom dance. In the 2000s, I had been doing a lot of swing dancing with the friendly people of Swing Dance Brisbane now going by the name of Empire Swing. From around 2005 to 2011 I taught swing dance classes for the dance called Balboa.

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Wes Barris